Norway and Hurtigruten Suspend Cruising Due to Covid-19 Incident

Hurtigruten suspends expedition cruises in face of COVID-19 outbreak
Roald Amundsen file photo courtesy of Hurtigruten

Published Aug 3, 2020 3:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

Norway announced today that is suspending cruising as it works to contain a potential spike in COVID-19 following an outbreak on a Hurtigruten expedition cruise last week. Earlier in the day, Hurtigruten had announced that it was canceling its expedition cruises while also apologizing for its failures. 

Cruising had been permitted to resume in late June, mostly for Norwegian citizens sailing on trips within country, and in mid-July Hurtigruten commenced its first expedition cruises. According to the Norwegian Health Minister, the country has now ordered an initial 14-day suspension for cruise ships with 100 or more passengers from disembarking in Norwegian ports. Norway’s costal ferries, as well as trips crossing the North Sea to Europe, however, were not included in this suspension. During this time, officials will investigate the Hurtigruten incident while health officials are conducting contact tracing seeking to contain the scope of the incident.

“We have made mistakes and we have failed in this case. We thought we were ready to start the expedition cruise and that we were well prepared,” Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam told reporters gathered in Oslo. “The preliminary review of what has happened on Roald Amundsen shows several deviations from our procedures.”

Skjeldam said based on what the company now understood, the quarantine rules for foreign crews on expedition cruises had not been followed. He said they had made wrong decisions and speculated had the procedures been followed that they might not have had an outbreak on board. In addition, he said passengers should have been notified Wednesday night, in the middle of their week cruise, and they should not have been permitted to disembark on Friday, July 31.

A total of 36 crew members aboard the Roald Amundsen have currently tested positive for COVID-19, including 33 Filipino crew members as well as one citizen each from Norway, Germany, and France. Four crew members were sent to a local hospital when the outbreak was first discovered while the remaining 32 are quarantined on the ship. An additional 122 crew members have tested negative but are also quarantined on the ship.

Five passengers have now also tested positive for COVID-19 while Hurtigruten and Norwegian health authorities are working to contact all of the passengers that were on the ship’s two cruises to the Arctic. According to the company, there were 209 passengers on the July 17 cruise and an additional 178 on the July 24 cruise. Approximately 60 of the passenger from the second cruise remained in Tromso after disembarkation and are in quarantine there while the remainder are being instructed under Norway regulations to self-quarantine. The company reports an unspecified “large number” of passengers have so far tested negative.

“To our guests, employees, and everyone who loves Hurtigruten, I want to apologize for this,” said Skjeldam referring to the situation that the company and Norway are now confronted with to contain the virus. The police and other authorities have initiated investigations while Hurtigruten said that it has also engaged DNV GL for an external review of the incident, Hurtigruten’s procedures, and if the protocols were followed aboard the ship.

The Roald Amundsen remains in quarantine with its future cruises canceled. Hurtigruten also canceled its Arctic expedition cruises on the Spitsbergen and expedition cruises on the Fridtjof Nansen, which had been sailing from Germany. Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coastal voyages between Bergen and Kirkenes however are continuing. The company cited fundamental differences in the nature of this operation, including a mostly Norwegian crew, as well as no indications that the health procedures have been broken on the coastal voyages.